|Sunday, 28 November 2004|
The HNB saga :
From Hatton's green hills to Gami Pubuduwa
What began as a planters' Bank well over a century ago in tea-draped Hatton in the central hills of Sri Lanka, has evolved to be Sri Lanka's largest private commercial bank.
Today, Hatton National Bank (HNB) continues its illustrious tradition as a trail-blazer in the sphere of banking. On a clear day, the lofty mountains of Hatton can still be seen hundreds of miles away in Colombo, from atop the HNB Towers, one of Sri Lanka's most sophisticated skyscrapers that serves as the nerve-centre of the bank's islandwide network.
Arguably, the finest achievement of the bank, however, lies off the beaten-track in the poverty-stricken rural areas of Sri Lanka. HNB's Gami Pubuduwa (Village Awakening) program, has true to its name, given a new lease of life to over half a million people, including 50,000 direct beneficiaries. Gami Pubuduwa, in the process, has redefined the concept of micro-financing, emerging as a model for sustainable development among people living below the poverty-line.
When Gami Pubuduwa was launched in 1989 in the midst of civil unrest, the Bank was hoping against hope that its visionary and ambitious formula would bring poverty-stricken Sri Lankans into the formal economy. In hindsight, we believe we served the right mechanics for a refreshingly new social revolution. A 95% rate of repayment and a new and growing deposit base serve as a poignant testimony to Gami Pubuduwa's success. The bank's bottom-line in relation to Gami Pubuduwa proves that micro-financing could indeed be sustainable banking instrument while serving to uplift a developing economy. In fact, The World Bank issued a special report on HNB's Gami Pubuduwa, hailing it as a model to the world.
A new model for sustainable micro-financing
This model of village awakening was imaginatively built around the lives of banking officers handpicked for the project. Affectionately known as 'Bankuwe Mahatthaya' or the gentleman from the Bank, these men were equipped and sent to far-flung villages on a mission few thought would succeed.
Winning the hearts and minds of a disgruntled people was no easy task. Gami Pubuduwa Officers would first build a relationship with the village temple, the school principal and the government officer appointed to oversee small administrative units - the nucleus of the village. Extensively trained to handle village life, Gami Pubuduwa Officers merged into the village culture, winning the trust and admiration of the people. They emerged as the village's new engine of growth.
A true partner in progress A makeshift office in the village offered people their first experience of banking. At first, the officers had to seek out potential candidates among the village's youth but soon, people came seeking help. With their lives awakened to a new sunrise, villagers pursued their new dreams with vigour. Bankuwe Mahatthaya's mission, however, wasn't complete yet. He was their friend, teacher and inspiration. He was always at hand to guide the entrepreneurial destiny of the villagers and this not only helped him teach them prudent financial stewardship but turned Hatton National Bank into the people's true partner in progress.
From Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 500,000
Today, HNB's Gami Pubuduwa continues to touch the lives of the poor. The Gami Pubuduwa success story is filled with rags to riches testimonies where what started as a life-changing Rs. 5,000 (US $50) loan had taken many people to a position of financial stability that allows them to take loans exceeding Rs. 500,000 (US $ 5000).
Produced by Lake House